1. The words of Nehemiah the son of Hachaliah. It came to pass in the month of Chislev, in the twentieth year, as I was in Shushan the citadel, 2. that Hanani one of my brethren came with men from Judah; and I asked them concerning the Jews who had escaped, who had survived the captivity, and concerning Jerusalem. 3 And they said to me, “The survivors who are left from the captivity in the province are there in great distress and reproach. The wall of Jerusalem is also broken down, and its gates are burned with fire.” 4. So it was, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned for many days; I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven.
The book of Nehemiah opens with the presence of distress and heartbreak. The Jews who had returned from captivity to Jerusalem were distressed by the lack of security in Jerusalem and the ridicule from the surrounding people. Nehemiah was heartbroken by the conditions his countrymen were living under. For the walls of a city to be destroyed meant several things. First, the city was no longer secure. City walls served as the first line of defense from outside attack. Second, the self-worth of the people was at stake. With a city’s walls destroyed, the city was open to ridicule from those on the outside. Third, as was in the case of Jerusalem, the broken down walls spoke to the spiritual condition of God’s people. They were broken. They had returned from captivity, but not the entire nation. They were in desperate need of renewal and revival. Kings constructed elaborate and magnificent walls around their cities to reflect the power and status of their nation. Jerusalem was God’s city. God’s people lived there. The worship of God happened there and was the light of a nation set-apart by God Himself. The news broke the heart of Nehemiah. The news of the people’s distress and the reproach upon God drove Nehemiah to prayer.
Are our hearts broken as easily? Does the suffering and distress of God’s people drive us to a place of prayer? Are we offended by what offends God? Does it bother us as God’s to see the walls of morality and decency broken down around us? Do we pray more earnestly because of this? Is it possible that we have been so desensitized by the god of this world to the things that offend God that we just excuse them away as simply “the way the world is today”? I would hope not.
Nehemiah’s love for God and God’s people moved him to action for both. On into chapter two we see Nehemiah beginning the rebuild of Jerusalem. I believe today, more than ever, God is seeking wall builders. He is seeking those who will seek His face and fame and take an active part in removing the reproach heaped upon God by a world that does know or care about Him. It is not enough for God’s people to simply look around and be grieved by what we see. That is simply the beginning point. This grief should serve as a catalyst for action.